Following a recent trip to the UK to meet with family I had not seen for 40 years there are lots of updates to the tree.
Conversations and memories started of a lot of discussions, solving some problems with my memory and opening up new lines of enquiry. There were also a few errors I needed to correct, mostly spelling mistakes in place names which made finding places on the site harder.
With the information exchange came lots of photographs, some have taken time to research who was in the picture and when it was taken. In addition I took several hundred photographs myself, mainly of places ancestors lived and there were several hundred more gravestone photographs which still need to be sorted.
Lots of new family lines are being added, many photographs are also getting added to people and places, maps are one of the biggest updates. I have also got an update to Gramps pushed for the next update that will show more than just BMD data on maps. Gravestones have not been processed yet but will be added as they are deciphered.
Online tree updates are occurring at least twice a week currently, this should reduce to once every week or two by the end of the year.
I was looking at the name cloud above and got a bit fed up with the big missing surname entry. This looks like sloppy work on my part.
I checked in Gramps and 4% of my database was missing surnames, this is not good. There will always be a few names that are unknown and I could cheat by adding the married name to British women, most names that are missing are from married women whose birth name is unknown and that is a peculiarity of Britain and the colonies, the rest of the world value women higher and they use their birth name all their life. Using a married name though does introduce a chance for errors, there are some cases where cousins with the same name married and they may get overlooked with using married names as birth names.
Some of these missing names will be for ever clouded in mystery, like Agnes, the wife of John Grist. She is only mentioned on her burial record and the baptism of her children. She may have married before the reformation or before the new church of England started keeping records, or they may have been a record that has got lost in the last 500 years. I doubt I will ever find her name or the parents of either of them, common peasants were not worth recording.
With a lot of new parish records coming online over the last few months and the GRO search site now having mothers maiden names back to 1837 there were lots of places where I could fill in names, and in many cases get research back one or two generations. It took some time but missing names are now less than 1% of the total 8000 people in the tree.
It is always useful to go back over old research, new facts pop up all the time and allow a better picture of our ancestors lives.
I have not yet been convinced of the value of DNA testing for genealogy, but working in a vacuum of facts does nothing so I bit the bullet and ordered a DNA test.
I avoided the Ancestry test as it seems a confidence trick, you have to subscribe to Ancestry to start with. FamilytreeDNA seemed the most recommended and perhaps versatile.
So far I have been severely underwhelmed by the process. The website seems fairly useless adding a family tree using the ‘Spawn of Satan’ gedcom system worked reasonably well, viewing the tree was problematic, I am constantly reminded to add my parents although they are shown on the page, I am hoping this is to do with not having the results on the site yet.
The test itself was a simple affair once I had it, getting it was the problem. Two weeks after ordering online the address label was printed and I got a tracking number which showed it took three days to get into the postal system, the package travelled around Texas for 24 hours and three days later appeared in Chicago, it travelled around several locations in Chicago over the next 24 hours before an entry was added, departed Chicago. In my innocence I assumed it was now flying to Europe, but no, the next entry was it back in Texas, it departed there 25 December then 3 days later it departed Frankfurt and took a week longer to get here as it sat around the customs check over the weekend and feast days.
Now it is making the return trip and I expect the results sometime before the new year
There are several short answers to this, from nothing to as much as you want to spend, but maybe that is not so helpful.
A lot will depend on your ultimate aim, do you want to find out for just yourself, or your close family or do you want to present your findings to the world at large as a properly researched scientific work.
Most people start off small, just trying to find some recent history for their own pleasure or to satisfy curiosity of family members. Most research can be done by talking to family members, collating their recollections and collecting copies of any paper documents they have. All it will cost is your time and maybe travel expenses or telephone calls. Storing the data so you can get it back later is either handwritten notes and files, or use a computer to store word processor documents or you could get a dedicated genealogy programme.
The software option is where many people make the mistake of buying something that locks them into that system. I would recommend something like Gramps, it is free open source software that is easy enough for a beginner but has advanced features for professional use. If you do not like it or drop the research then it has cost you nothing.
The next step on your journey will take you places where there are multiple options and increasing price tags. Research outside your relatives memory will, these days, take you to online genealogy search sites. My recommendation is do not pay to access any site until you know what you are doing and how to do it. It may seem easier to join something like Ancestry but you could trap yourself. You will not be able to download everything you upload, if you stop paying the subscription you will not have access to your data, and there are other problems. Similar stories can be applied to other sites.
Initially you can get a long way with family search, which is free to search and does have many full records you can see, some will link to another pay sites but at least you know there is a record to find. Another advantage is that family search covers many countries.
If you need data for a specific country then there are many free search sites that can be found. For the UK there is freebmd and sister sites covering census pages and parish records. For Nederland try wiewaswie (who was who) which might also help with S. African records. Cyndies list is the place to go to find more reseaech aids.
Once you have researched as far as you can easily then it might be time to consider paying to access more data, but now you might have some idea where to look and be able to judge the value for money in your case.
As a guide, my own tree had 2500 people on it back to the 1500’s on 5 continents before I considered subscribing to a site, the determining factor was the missing citations of sources. I had made notes which allowed me to find the unseen records but to prove my research I needed to see the original records.
So to answer my question, you can do a lot at no cost, but if you want to call yourself a genealogist then you will need to pay something to do the job correctly. It could be that one site does not cover all the areas you need but expect to pay around 100 $, euro or pounds a year per site, take advantage of special offers which appear very often, often let your subscription lapse at the end of the year and a month or so later you may get a 50% discount to rejoin.
Not much in the of updates this week, a few brickwalls moved a step back with the new GRO search engine, for light relief traced some Australian, New Zealand and Newfoundland lines, about 25 people added and 30 edited.
Of more interest were cousins. I came across 2 colonist cousins who seem to have copied a lot of my research, except the sources and with one the dates, and put them on their own tree sites. Without sources or dates it has no point and without researching the 2 – 300 people they have I cannot add anything from their trees to mine. Luckily I do have some cousins who collaborate on our joint trees.
Whist muttering to myself about the stupidity of some people I came across a site new to me. Lost Cousins which looks like a great site for new researchers, lots of tips and advice and a major tool to kickstart your research, there are also benefits for more experienced researchers.
The basic helpful tool will match your known ancestors with other peoples and link you to cousins. Many online sites will of course match ancestors for you, some will charge you to upload data, some will charge you for matching or otherwise limit you use of the links as a cash flow for their company. Joining and adding your data is free with Lost Cousins.
Other sites seem to like to give you hundreds or thousands of matches, most being incorrect but Lost Cousins works on a specific format to produce exact matches only and as the data matched has been added by a researcher in your family you are certain of finding cousins. You enter ancestors from specific sets of census data and your relationship to them and see if anyone else has added them. It takes less than 5 minutes to add complete families and I found a new cousin after entering about 60 people, two relatives of mine were direct line ancestors of theirs, a short while later another cousin popped up with four matches, a day later a third cousin was listed but I already knew her.
The main reason this site will help new researchers is many of the census collections are free to view on several sites, once you have people from 1940 US or 1881 UK you can add them and cousins will help your tree grow. If you think you have these people fully researched you may find your cousins have information that you were not aware of.
Once you have added enough people to the site you are invited to join the forum, which is another fun place to visit and learn from.
Only drawbacks to the site is you need to be a member to be able to contact cousins, but that costs less than a couple of cups of coffee a year. The other drawback you might find is the sponsored links, subscription is low as the owner covers costs by referral links, if you are thinking of buying something it will not cost you more to buy through his link, but if you really object to the low key links an adblocker will help you.
In any case it is worth joining for just the newsletter.